On a very limited number of occasions — once, maybe twice — I have felt like I had reached the limits of my physical abilities. My arms and legs trembling with weariness, I was nearing the end of what my body could do.
On a few of occasions I’ve watched sporting events and seen athletes expend themselves to such a limit that they had to be carried off the field by their teammates. They had not suffered an injury; their exhaustion simply prevented them from physically continuing their activity.
I have numerous times stood at a bedside and seen someone at the end of life — his or her body failing from weariness and the cumulative effect of a lifetime of ills and weaknesses bringing them to the brink of death.
All these manifestations of weariness, and more, are not uncommon experiences to us.
But there is another kind of weariness as well — a spiritual weariness that tempts one to say, “I quit — I’ve done all that I can do. I can’t do it any longer.” The image of one who has left the church, a marriage, a family, a job, a friendship is too common. We’ve heard the lament from some who have tasted of Christ and the gospel, “I’ve tried that obeying and following Christ — it didn’t work…” And with those words they spew Christ from their lives, and walk away, weary of doing good.
What is notable is that there is a significant difference between physical weariness and spiritual weariness. Both have the same lament, “I can’t…” but for the one who has reached the end physically, there is no amount of cajoling, encouraging or commanding that will enable him to respond affirmatively to the statement, “don’t be weary.” But for the one who is spiritually weary, it is possible to exhort and command him, “don’t be weary,” and have him respond.
When we are weary, how can we not be weary? How do you continue to love when it is unreturned? How do you continue to forgive when it is abused? How do you continue to give and provide when recipients take advantage of generosity? How do you continue serving in ministry when you feel as lonely as Elijah?
Endurance to forsake weariness is not a matter of self-will and “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality. It comes from the application of spiritual principles and gifts. Paul provides several such instructions throughout the Thessalonian letters.
Ask the Lord for His strength (3:1-3). James would say, “you do not have because you do not ask” (4:2). The successful spiritual life is not dependent upon the ability of a man, but on God who saves him (Phil. 2:13). Sometimes our weariness is because we have not availed ourselves of the power of God, who will (that’s a promise) strengthen you.
Cultivate a love for God (3:5). Paul indicates that there is a direct correlation between our love for God and the steadfastness we experience for Christ. Perhaps we live weakly because we love inadequately.
Remember the end of those who do not believe in Christ (1:5-10). When hardship endures, there is a temptation to believe that the trial is literally unending (eternal). It is not. There is something worse than enduring great hardship — a greater tragedy is to be the one who inflicts temporal persecution and faces eternal destruction. When tempted to weariness under persecution remember that it will end and your hope is eternal and your weight is light.
Excel still more (1 Thess. 4:1). The word “excel” or “abound” is a favorite of Paul — he uses it 26 times in his letters. We can abound in our work because it is not vain (1 Cor. 15:58). However much we have sinned, we have received grace for forgiveness that is far more abundant (Rom. 5:15). No matter the amount of our suffering, we receive even more abundant comfort from Christ (2 Cor. 1:5). The giving of God’s grace is given to believers to make much more glory abound to God (2 Cor. 4:5). The Lord gives abundant grace so that there is abundant ability to carry out good deeds (2 Cor. 9:8). All these and more demonstrate the sufficiency of God’s power and grace to make weak men strong so they might continue in endurance.
So Paul’s command is not illegitimate — it is given not only as a responsibility that is to be obeyed, but with the promises of God’s provision to enable us to sustain. Do not grow weary in doing good or in any part of your spiritual life — because God has given you the grace and power you need.